Dr. Scott Gottlieb Sees Covid Vaccine in ‘Rationing Type of Environment' Well Into the Spring

Eva Marie Uzcategui | Bloomberg | Getty Images
  • "Really the biggest variable right now is that we're going to have limited supply for the remainder of this year certainly and even into next year," Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC.
  • A CDC advisory panel Tuesday recommended that health-care workers and long-term care residents receive the first coronavirus vaccine doses.
  • Gottlieb also said Wednesday that he expects vaccine supply to be limited when more Americans qualify for vaccination.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Wednesday the availability of coronavirus vaccine doses is likely to be limited in the next few months should U.S. regulators grant emergency approval later this month.

"We're going to be in this sort of rationing type of environment for this vaccine probably well into the spring," the former Food and Drug Administration commissioner said on "Squawk Box."

Gottlieb, a Pfizer board member, made his remarks shortly after the company's Covid-19 vaccine received approval from the U.K. government. Britain's rollout of the Pfizer vaccine, developed in partnership with German biotech firm BioNTech, is set to start next week for health-care workers and elderly people in long-term care facilities.

A day earlier, an advisory panel for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that a similar group of Americans be the first to receive a Covid-19 vaccine after it receives regulatory clearance in America. In addition to Pfizer's application with the FDA, Moderna also has submitted for the same limited authorization. The FDA could grant approval in just a few weeks, with distribution across the U.S. beginning shortly thereafter.

The U.S. expects about 40 million doses of vaccine will be available by the end of 2020, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told CNBC in mid-November. Since both Pfizer and Moderna's vaccines require two doses, that would be enough for roughly 20 million Americans. There are approximately 21 million health-care workers in the U.S. and 3 million residents of long-term care facilities.

Most states and other localities expect the process of vaccinating all their health-care workers to take three weeks, according to Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, who spoke during Tuesday's CDC panel meeting.

Gottlieb, who led the FDA from 2017 to 2019 during the Trump administration, touted the potential benefits of a vaccine to help turn the tide of the coronavirus pandemic. However, he stressed it will take time for widespread deployment.

"Really the biggest variable right now is that we're going to have limited supply for the remainder of this year certainly and even into next year," Gottlieb said. That means even when additional groups of Americans are cleared to receive the vaccine, "we're going to be limited with those tranches," he said.

"It's going to be certain essential workers in the next waves of vaccination and also older individuals who are at higher risk of having a bad outcome for Covid. Those will be the groups that get vaccinated next," he added.

Despite initial supply constraints, manufacturing capacity is expected to be ramped up throughout the next year. Pfizer and BioNTech have said they can make up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021. Last month, Massachusetts-based Moderna said it is still on pace to produce 500 million to 1 billion doses of its vaccine globally in 2021.

On Tuesday, the Trump administration's vaccine chief, Dr. Moncef Slaoui, said he believes every American could be inoculated against Covid-19 by June. The country has almost 331 million people.

"Very quickly we'll start having more than 150 million doses a month in March, April, May," Slaoui told The Washington Post, should vaccines from companies beyond Pfizer and Moderna become available.

A number of other companies are in various stages of testing Covid-19 vaccines including U.K.-based AstraZeneca and U.S. drug giant Johnson & Johnson.

Gottlieb has said he expects the intensity of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak to be less severe in 2021, even when just portions of the population start to get vaccinated against Covid-19. That's because up to 30% of Americans are likely to have been infected by year-end, he told CNBC earlier this week.

"You combine a lot of infection around the country with vaccinating 20% of the population [and] you're getting to levels where this virus is not going to circulate as readily, once you get to those levels of prior immunity," Gottlieb said Monday.

The U.S. has 13.7 million confirmed cases of coronavirus and at least 270,728 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC contributor and is a member of the boards of Pfizer, genetic testing start-up Tempus and biotech company Illumina. Gottlieb also serves as co-chair of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings′ and Royal Caribbean's "Healthy Sail Panel." 

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